Dorset victim’s family join calls for Army justice to be more open
The family of a Royal Military Policeman from Dorset who was found hanged has called on the Army to hand over investigation of serious complaints such as sexual harassment to an outside authority.
Anne-Marie Ellement, 30, was found hanged after accusing two colleagues of raping her while she was drunk. The RMP’s Special Investigations branch investigated but the Service Prosecuting Authority did not bring charges.
Corporal Ellement was struggling with long hours, claimed she was being belittled and had just learned that a former boyfriend had started seeing someone else when she hanged herself at Bulford barracks, near Salisbury in Wiltshire.
An inquest last March recorded a verdict of suicide but the High Court ordered a fresh hearing following an application for a judicial review by her sisters. No date has yet been set for the new hearing which will examine the context of her death.
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Her case is among a growing number of instances in which Army personnel say lives have been wrecked and careers ruined. They say the Army’s system of internal investigation can leave victims and witnesses scared to speak out. The years that investigations can take can also blight lives.
Soldiers, politicians and a military watchdog are calling for action.
Emma Norton, the Liberty lawyer who is representing Anne-Marie’s family, believes the rape enquiry should have been handled by civilian police. She said: “There are broader concerns too about the independence of military justice and I can’t think of a better example than this case. It is almost as though the odds were stacked against Anne-Marie from the outset. We would say of victims like Anne-Marie and other serving personnel they get second best justice.”
Since the scandal of Deepcut barracks at which four young recruits died in mysterious circumstances amid allegations of bullying, allegations of serious criminal activity by service personnel in the UK have been investigated by civilian police, at least initially. But Anne-Marie’s alleged rape took place at Sennelage barracks in Germany, and the new rule does not apply outside the UK.
Nicholas Blake, QC, who carried out a review into the Deepcut deaths found “clear evidence of foul abuse” of trainees and recommended an independent Ombudsman be appointed to deal with complaints from soldiers. Instead a Services complaints system was set up in which complaints are still dealt with internally, with an independent Service Complaints Commissioner overseeing grievances.
But the Commissioner, Dr Susan Atkins, has no power to influence outcomes and has said men and women risking their lives deserve better.
As a Royal Military Policewoman, Corporal Ellement found her case being investigated by her own unit, and the RMP’s involvement has continued even into a review of the original investigation.
Her family, who include older sister Sharon Hardy, of Bournemouth, say the RMP “failed in its duty of care”.
Ms Norton said: “The Service Prosecuting Authority offered to meet the family back in October and the family was hoping that this would allay fears, but it had the opposite effect. As a result of that meeting we had more concerns and so wrote to the Ministry of Defence and said: ‘we have more concerns, now please will you confirm whether you are going to re-open, or order that the investigation be reopened.’ They have conducted an internal review but they haven’t told us the outcome, although we understand that it hasn’t resulted in a reinvestigation and it looks as though the RMP were involved in that as well.
“Not only was the investigation carried out by the military police the internal review appears to have been carried out by them as well. To be fair to them it has also involved Royal Naval Police but we still don’t know whether they are going to reopen the rape investigation which is what we have asked for.
“Getting the investigation reopened is almost as important to the families as the new inquest.”